Chimpanzees share over 90 percent of their DNA with humans -- but the similarities between these two species seems to extend beyond genetics alone. For what is believed to be the very first time, researchers have captured the behavior of a female chimp mourning over her recently deceased 16-month-old child, detailing how non-human primates respond to death. This moving footage not only challenges those who might question the extent to which animals experience the loss of a life, it bridges the perceived differences between the natural world and we humans who are harbingers of so much death therein. Video via The Telegraph
This haunting footage above was captured by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics showing a chimpanzee mother's behavior towards her dead infant. A team led by Dr. Katherine Cronin sought to study the little-understood reaction of non-human primates encountering the realities of mortality.
"The videos are extremely valuable, because they force one to stop and think about what might be happening in the minds of other primates," Dr. Cronin told CORDIS News. "Whether a viewer ultimately decides that the chimpanzee is mourning, or simply curious about the corpse, is not nearly as important as people taking a moment to consider the possibilities."
The report describes what researchers observed:
Dr. Cronin and doctoral student Edwin Van Leeuwen monitored the behaviour of a female chimpanzee that had recently lost her 16-month-old infant. The mother carried the infant's dead body for more than 24 hours, and then laid it on the ground in a glade. She approached the body many times, and held her fingers against the infant's face and neck for several seconds. The mother then stayed close to the body for almost an hour, later carrying it over to a group of chimpanzees that began to examine the body. The mother no longer carried the body of the infant the next day.
It is worthy of noting that the chimpanzees seen in the video are no stranger to hardship. The animals reside in Zimbabwe's Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust -- a reserve which protects primates born in the wild but that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
Watching such stirring scenes, the sense of sadness and loss within the seem palpable -- and it's no wonder why. Beyond the limitations of our complex languages and constructs of emotion experience -- and all the factors that invented to distinguish us from the natural world from which we were born -- there's really more that we have retained than abandoned.
I suspect that the possible revelation of such similarities between humans and their primate cousins would otherwise be unremarkable if its implications weren't so significant. Our perceptions of a vast difference between the emotion experience of human and animals has afforded us the opportunity to presume dominion over them, limiting to what extent we will offer our sympathies and protection. Without such a systemic prejudice in place, we'd suddenly be culpable for a host of injustices, the likes of which vastly overshadow any in the history of human civilization.
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